As I write this column, dialogue with the British Prime Minister and a Northern Ireland party is still going on. If the British PM is to remain in office, she needs parliamentary support from another party. If that is not forthcoming she will preside over a weak government so fragile that a no-confidence vote can topple her.
Once she has voting majority, then her power base is secure. But she will never be free of the exacting hand of her junior partner because her small ally will do what is both commonsensical and pragmatic – make demands.
There is something in life called “practical commonsense” and it operated throughout history and will never cease to stop. Here is something that most Guyanese ought to know. There are tiny shops all over the place specializing in car parts. Once you go to them, the seller knows you couldn’t find what you wanted at the big, established outlets. The seller is not going to offer you the market price. That will never happen. If you want your car to go on the road you better pay him above market rate.
What happens when you miss the last ferry and you have to be in the main city before morning comes? The speed boat guy isn’t going to charge you the normal price. What most humans will do is bite the bullet, tell yourself he is unscrupulous; cuss him out quietly so he cannot hear, but you will pay him what he wants to take you to the mainland.
The two examples offered here exist in graphic form in coalition politics. The Northern Ireland party is not going to tell the UK Prime Minister that they love her so much that they will offer her a parliamentary majority. No, they will bargain with her. She wants to remain Prime Minister and she will offer concessions.
This is the nature of coalition politics. Mr. Burnham wanted in 1964 to be Prime Minister. He didn’t have a majority. The United Force agreed to team up with Mr. Burnham. One of its demands was that its leader must be the Finance Minister. Mr. Burnham agreed. If one year after the government was in power, Mr. Burnham had sacked the Finance Minister or transferred him, the coalition would have fallen and maybe the United Force would have gone over to the PPP. The Finance Minister and the Prime Minister did not get along but the UF/PNC coalition lasted until the next election in 1968.
What happens in coalition politics is that the Prime Minister or the President has de jure power but the small party propping up the Prime Minister or President has de facto power. Put another way; there is a subtle diminution in the power of the leader of the government. The AFC has twelve seats in its name. If there is a quarrel in the coalition and the AFC withdraws, the coalition can fall if the AFC agrees to a no confidence vote.
There is a covenant between the AFC and APNU named the Cummingsburg Accord. The AFC can lie as much as it wants to the people of Guyana by shouting out that it cannot go against Cabinet decisions and Cabinet decisions are binding. The fact is the president politically as against the legal power he has, cannot and will not fire or reassign AFC Ministers unless the AFC agrees to it.
In his talks last Saturday with the WPA, the President openly acknowledged that fact. The AFC in not wanting to rock the boat may acquiesce to the removal of an AFC Minister but if the AFC does not want to, the President in not wanting to rock the boat too, will back off. The Cummingsburg Accord has a restraining hand over the political authority of the President.
This is the nature of coalition politics. As I have observed in several columns within the past 18 months, there is no such thing as a unity cabinet in coalition government. It is a contradiction in terms to refer to such a phrase. The AFC says there is a unity cabinet in coalition government but it cannot point to one example in the world.
Surely not in Israel, Germany, Italy. The AFC has simply been lying to the nation that it cannot go against decisions of Cabinet. It is now the WPA’s turn to lie. The Ministry of the Presidency issued a press release saying that the WPA has accepted the President’s right to change his cabinet. Which right? The legal or the political one? The two are not complimentary.
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